Little Men

 

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Another New York tale from Ira Sachs who, following Love Is Strange, continues to go his own way.

 

Little Men

Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz

 

Since the Japanese director Ozu Yasujiro (1903-1963) is my favourite filmmaker, his name tends to crop up from time to time in my reviews, but with Little Men Ira Sachs gets in first. His notes on this film explain his desire to make a piece about childhood with two 13-year-old boys at its centre and he instances earlier titles that have influenced him in this project. He mentions that classic from 1948, Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol, but in particular cites two titles by Ozu: I Was Born, But... made in 1932 and the 1959 movie Good Morning which is often described as a remake but is really a lighter variation on the earlier work.

 

Those films by Ozu featured brothers who show their disapproval of the behaviour of their parents by refusing to talk to them. That is a notion borrowed here by Sachs and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, but more importantly they follow Ozu in seeking to tell a tale that avoids big gestures and deals in everyday life. That is the approach they bring to this Brooklyn-set tale of two families: Brian Jardine (Greg Kinnear) is a struggling actor with a more secure wife, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), who has established a career as a psychiatrist. Brian is also a landlord having acquired a property from his late father and the need to make it pay is urged on him by his sister (Talia Balsam), the other beneficiary of the estate. The second family is that of an established business lessee, Leonor Calvelli (Paulina García), a foreigner and single mother befriended by Brian's late father who is now confronted with the requirement to pay more than she can afford for the rent if her lease is to be renewed.

 

There is no melodrama here, but the conflicts that now arise become a source of tension increased by the irony that young Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz) and young Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri) have become best friends. The youngsters play their roles with absolute assurance and the talented adult cast (there's a cameo appearance here by Alfred Molina) all lend themselves to effective underplaying that eliminates any sense of fiction. This proves that Sachs has indeed understood Ozu, and in the process he has created a work that goes against present trends but is all the more welcome for that. If Little Men nevertheless falls short of being any kind of masterpiece, it is because it quite lacks the wide-ranging implications that make the ending of I Was Born, But... so telling and for that matter the way in which the boys make their protest is more persuasive in Ozu's film in which they are actually brothers and younger still. Even so, this is a sincere, honest piece of work which deserves a warm welcome.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina García, Alfred Molina, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri, Talia Balsam, Maliq Johnson, Anthony Angelo Flamminio, Madison Wright, John Proccacino.


Dir Ira Sachs, Pro Lucas Joaquín, Ira Sachs and Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Screenplay Mauricio Zacharias and Ira Sachs, Ph Óscar Durán, Pro Des Alexandra Schaller, Ed Mollie Goldstein and Affonso Gonçalves, Music Dickon Hinchcliffe, Costumes Eden Miller.


Race Point Films/Farliro House/Charlie Guidance Productions/Buffalo 8-Altitude Film Distribution.
85 mins. USA/Brazil/Greece. 2016. Rel: 23 September 2016. Cert. PG
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